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chesilbeach

Claire's book list 2013

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Man Walks Into A Room by Nicole Krauss 

 

Review:

I finished this book yesterday and I still can't stop thinking about it.  Funnily enough, it wasn't even on my radar until last month when a friend lent it to me, as we'd both enjoyed The History of Love by this writer.  I can't tell you how glad I am, as this was even better!  

 

The police find a man wandering in the Nevada desert.  Checking the name on the ID in his wallet, they find out he is Samson Greene, a professor at Columbia University who has been missing for eight days.  He has no memory of who he is or how he got there, and at the hospital, is diagnosed with a brain tumour.  The tumour is removed but leaves gaps in his memory, in fact, he can remember nothing of his life after the age of twelve.  Astonishingly though, he can create new memories, and so has to rebuild his memories by learning who he is from those people who know him.

 

He returns to his home in New York with his wife, and you see the strain on a relationship he has no memory of.  Imagine going from the thoughts of being a twelve year old to being a man in your mid thirties with no recollection of your education, your career, your friends, and even the woman you share your bed with.  What was fascinating was how as a reader, just like Samson himself, you had no knowledge of who he was as a man, and as he attempts to fill in the missing years of memories, you and he find out not only what has happened to him in the intervening years, but what sort of man he had become.

 

It's not without flaws, and there is a scientific experiment relating to memory towards the end of the book, which while it was convincing and believable within the confines of the story, it felt a little bit too fantastical for me.  However, it does work brilliantly within the story, and forces Samson into action to move on with his life in the present.

 

There is also a fascinating epilogue - obviously I don't want to give anything away about it, but it did leave me questioning the conclusions I'd made by that point, and the idea of identity itself.

 

I read Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer a couple of years ago, which is a non-fiction science/travel book that is also all about memory, and this would make a fascinating companion piece to read, and in a strange (or perhaps not!) coincidence, Foer is the brother-in-law of Krauss.  Regardless, Man Walks into a Room is highly recommended by me.

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I'm another that loved Nicola's The History of Love so look forward to reading this one Claire. Great review :)

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Thanks Kay.  If I hadn't borrowed it in the first place, I'd lend you my copy, but unfortunately it's gone back to my friend.

Edited by chesilbeach

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Mrs Harris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico

 

Synopsis: (from amazon.co.uk)

Mrs Harris is a salt-of-the-earth London charlady who cheerfully cleans the houses of the rich. One day, when tidying Lady Dant's wardrobe, she comes across the most beautiful thing she has ever seen in her life - a Dior dress. In all the years of her drab and humble existence, she's never seen anything as magical as the dress before her and she's never wanted anything as much before. Determined to make her dream come true, Mrs Harris scrimps, saves and slaves away until one day, after three long, uncomplaining years, she finally has enough money to go to Paris.

 

Review:

Set in the 1950s, this little comic book conjures up the lifestyles of the rich through the eyes of the common charwoman who cleans for them, but who has a heart of gold and is a force to be reckoned with when she sets her mind to it. The quest to buy her own Dior dress leads her to drastically economise in order to save her money, and then when she thinks her goal is achieved, finds that it's not just money you need to enter the mystifying world unknown to the hoi polloi.

 

While it may show signs caricature and cliche in places, this doesn't detract from this charming story, with it social faux pas and the romance of an adventure in Paris. With stumbling blocks at every turn, the grit and determination of the stoical cleaning lady wins the day, even if for one day only.

 

One minor grumble, I don't like it when authors try to write dialect, and it did get on my nerves a couple of times in this book, but the overall charm of it was enough to get me past that on this occasion.

 

A lovely read, though, with that very British sense of humour, with warmth and affection for the period and character.

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Mrs Harris Goes to New York by Paul Gallico

 

Synopsis:

When a young woman marries, she leaves the son she had with a GI during the war in the care of the family who live next door to Mrs Harris, but he is mistreated, under nourished and bullied. She tries to help him, but when she is asked to go to New York with one of her clients to keep house for them, she smuggles the lad with her in order to find his father.

 

Review:

Once again, Mrs Harris finds herself in a situation that is far more tricky than she could have imagined. While it might be easy to slip on board a ship hiding among a group with a large number of children, it's not going to be that straight forward when they arrive in America. Fortunately, with the help of friends, she manages to overcome that obstacle, but finding the boys father is far from easy. With the same warmth and humour in the first book, the forthright cleaning lady finds and makes friends in unlikely places, and a satisfying resolution is found for all.

 

Another great little story, and I've now found out there are a couple more Mrs Harris books, so I'll be looking for these in the future.

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Single in the City by Michele Gorman

Misfortune Cookie by Michele Gorman

 

 

Synopsis of Single In The City:

Take one twenty six year old American, add to a two thousand year old city, add a big dose of culture clash and stir.

 

To think Hannah ever believed that Americans differed from Brits mainly in pronunciation, sophistication and dentistry. That's been the understatement of a lifetime. She lands upon England's gentle shores with no job, no friends and no idea how she's supposed to build the life she's dreaming of. Armed with little more than her enthusiasm, she charges headlong into London, baffling the locals in her pursuit of a new life, new love and sense of herself.

 

Review:

Take a classic fish out of water story, with a big dollop of fun, romance, and friendships, and you get this gem of a romcom. Hannah has sort of drifted through life, never quite knowing where she was going, and when she finds herself unemployed, she makes a drunken decision to go to London for an adventure. She has to make friends, find somewhere to live, find a job, and all this with the massive language barrier between American English and British English.

 

Good fun, with a believable heroine, who makes mistakes, isn't a perfect size 0 model, and even the job she finds isn't what she expected, but who learns to stand on her own two feet and make things better. It's not even the happy ever after ending you expect from this type of book, with the perfect man sweeping her off her feet, but is left with Hannah deciding that she will move to Hong Kong!

 

Misfortune Cookie follows Hannah to Hong Kong where we get another slice of her attempts to live in an alien culture, and the road to true love certainly doesn't run smooth here either, but I don't want to give too much away as it will spoil the first book if you haven't read it.

 

I've gone back to reading more romcoms, and this is a great example of how they've moved on from the days of someone finding Prince Charming, to someone realising that it's not Prince Charming who makes your life better, but it's the person you become yourself who makes life more fulfilling.

Edited by chesilbeach

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Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper

 

Synopsis: (from amazon.co.uk)

Grace Parkes has just had to do a terrible thing. Having given birth to an illegitimate child, she has travelled to the famed Brookwood Cemetery to place her small infant's body in a rich lady's coffin. Following the advice of a kindly midwife, this is the only way that Grace can think of to give something at least to the little baby who died at birth, and to avoid the ignominy of a pauper's grave. Distraught and weeping, Grace meets two people at the cemetery: Mrs Emmeline Unwin and Mr James Solent. These two characters will have a profound affect upon Grace's life. But Grace doesn't know that yet. For now, she has to suppress her grief and get on with the business of living: scraping together enough pennies selling watercress for rent and food; looking after her older sister, who is incapable of caring for herself; thwarting the manipulative and conscience-free Unwin family, who are as capable of running a lucrative funeral business as they are of defrauding a young woman of her fortune.

 

Review:

I added this to my wish list after Janet reviewed it a while back, and decided to get it for one of my holiday reads a few weeks ago. I loved the opening where you are dropped straight into the midst of Grace's story. There are some great descriptions of London life of the period, some that I'd never come across before, and the funeral business was quite an unsavoury thing to read about at times. As the story of how Grace's life is revealed, I did feel it became a bit predictable, and there were a couple of instances which were just a bit too convenient, but on the whole, it was an entertaining read. I'll certainly look out for more of Mary Hooper in the future.

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If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

 

Synopsis: (from amazon.co.uk)

What happens in the woods, stays in the woods...

 

Carey is keeping a terrible secret.

If she tells, it could destroy her future.

If she doesn't, will she ever be free?

 

For almost as long as she can remember, Carey has lived in a camper van in the heart of the woods with her mother and six-year-old sister, Jenessa. Her mother routinely disappears for weeks at a time, leaving the girls to cope alone. Survival is Carey's only priority - until strangers arrive and everything changes . . .

 

Review:

During one of my usual Saturday morning Guardian Books browsing sessions, I came across this article and knew I wanted to look up of the the YA books mentioned in it, If You Find Me. I went and found the sample online, and then after reading that I had to read the book straight away. It's a compelling read which starts at the point where some stories would end, in that it begins with Carey and her sister Jenessa being found by the authorities living in a camper van in the woods, where their mother has kept them for years. They are placed back in the care of their father, a man Carey barely remembers except for the stories of abuse her mother told her, but she knows she must stay for the sake of her sister.

 

As their story unfolds, you come to realise the absolutely horrendous conditions their mother has kept the girls living in, and that there is even more to the story than they first let on. They have to try and reintegrate into the society they have been kept away from so long, but eventually Carey reveals the secret she has been hiding from, and the story is so devastating yet completely believable that my heart broke for the characters and what they'd been through, but the author still manages to leave you with a sense of hope that lives can be rebuilt and there can be a better future.

 

It reminded me a lot of Stolen by Lucy Christopher, a book that still stays with me a couple of years after reading, and I think If You Find Me will be the same. This is definitely one for older teenagers, but is also one of those crossover books for adults too.

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I'm not going to write a full review of Under The Skin by Michel Faber, but I am going to explain why I abandoned it. I've read a lot of other books by Faber and enjoyed them all, so when I saw this one on sale, I bought it without reading the blurb or any reviews. When I started reading it, I actually thought it was another book I'd opened on my Kindle, and it was only after the first chapter that it didn't seem to fit with what I knew of that book, that I checked the title and realised I'd started Under The Skin instead.

I'm found it a very uncomfortable read and so removed from all the other books of Faber's that I'd read. It seemed to be building up to a horror story, something I don't enjoy, and would never normally even attempt. I've read 23%, but after looking at reviews (and discussing on the abandoned books thread), I know it's not going to be the sort of book I can enjoy in any way, and I would find it even more unsettling than the start, so I decided to put it aside.

That's not to say I couldn't appreciate the writing. As always Faber's descriptive powers are excellent, and probably the main reason the story made my skin crawl, so if you don't mind reading horror, then I think this is book that could be enjoyable, it's just not for me.

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Great reviews again, chesilbeach :smile2:If You Find Me is definitely going on my wishlist, and I'm rather tempted to read the Mrs Harris books, too... And I'm also curious about the Nicole Krauss books. I'm going to go round and see if I could find your review on The History of Love.

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Thanks, frankie. I don't think I've written a review of The History of Love. I think I read it before I joined the forum, and I've had a look at my old blog and think it must even have been before that, so I don't have anything you can read. Although I remember enjoying it, and I still have my copy which means I must have refused to send it to the charity shop, I don't remember it in enough detail to be able to review it now. Maybe I'll re-read it at some point and write something on it then.

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I've read one book by Paul Gallico, it's called Jennie, do you know it? I loved it as a child (I own the Dutch version), it's such a great story.

 

Your reviews are pretty interesting, I've added some books to my wishlist :).

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These are the first books I've read by Paul Gallico, Athena, and I have to be honest and say I hadn't looked into his work much further than the Mrs Harris books, but I think I remember someone else on the forum mentioning Jennie (although maybe that's a figment of my imagination!).  I know he also wrote The Snow Goose which is on my wishlist.  I've just been onto fantasticfiction.co.uk and found out he's got quite an extensive catalogue that I can look into, although I don't know how many are still in print, so I may need to look into the library and second hand options too.

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Thanks, frankie. I don't think I've written a review of The History of Love. I think I read it before I joined the forum, and I've had a look at my old blog and think it must even have been before that, so I don't have anything you can read. Although I remember enjoying it, and I still have my copy which means I must have refused to send it to the charity shop, I don't remember it in enough detail to be able to review it now. Maybe I'll re-read it at some point and write something on it then.

 

That's alright :) It's enough that you and poppyshake loved the book, and that there's a copy at the library :D

 

These are the first books I've read by Paul Gallico, Athena, and I have to be honest and say I hadn't looked into his work much further than the Mrs Harris books, but I think I remember someone else on the forum mentioning Jennie (although maybe that's a figment of my imagination!).  I know he also wrote The Snow Goose which is on my wishlist.  I've just been onto fantasticfiction.co.uk and found out he's got quite an extensive catalogue that I can look into, although I don't know how many are still in print, so I may need to look into the library and second hand options too.

 

No wonder the author's name sounded familiar, The Snow Goose was nominated for some reading circle a few years back... I checked the library and they have a copy of Flowers for Mrs Harris (and I think that's the first book in the series?), in English as well, so I've added that to my wishlist :)

 

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No wonder the author's name sounded familiar, The Snow Goose was nominated for some reading circle a few years back... I checked the library and they have a copy of Flowers for Mrs Harris (and I think that's the first book in the series?), in English as well, so I've added that to my wishlist :)

 

Apparently, Mrs Harris Goes to Paris was originally published under the title Flowers for Mrs Harris in the UK (way back in 1958!), and yes, it's the first book that introduces Mrs Harris, so you'll be off to a good start with that one!

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Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

 

Synopsis: (from amazon.co.uk)

Along Cornwall's ancient coast, from time to time, the flotsam and jetsam of the past can become caught in the cross-currents of the present and a certain kind of magic floats to the surface... Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee. Houses creak, fill with water and keep a fretful watch on their inhabitants. And, on a windy beach, a small boy and his grandmother keep despair at bay with an old white door. In these stories, hopes, regrets and memories are entangled with catfish, wreckers' lamps and baying hounds as Cornish folklore slips into everyday life.

 

Review:

Lucy Wood was one of the authors who appeared at the ShortStoryVille event I attended last year, and she read the beginning of one of the stories for this, her debut book.  I made a note of the book as I was fascinated by the coming together of the folklore with the contemporary, and I've recently read the book in full.

 

The stories are all set in the modern day, but have elements of Cornish mythology woven through them.  I haven't read any short stories for quite a while, and it was great to get back to them.  They range from beguiling to melancholy but overall, they are just beautifully written stories.  I find it difficult to say much about short stories, as there is such a variety within the collection, but I loved all of these, and will happily be reading more from Lucy Wood in the future.

Edited by chesilbeach

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Apparently, Mrs Harris Goes to Paris was originally published under the title Flowers for Mrs Harris in the UK (way back in 1958!), and yes, it's the first book that introduces Mrs Harris, so you'll be off to a good start with that one!

 

Oh, that's excellent! :D Thanks very much for the info :smile2:

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Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan
 
Synopsis: (from amazon.co.uk)
Were you a sherbet lemon or chocolate lime fan? Penny chews or hard boiled sweeties (you do get more for your money that way)? The jangle of your pocket money . . . the rustle of the pink and green striped paper bag . . .
 
Rosie Hopkins thinks leaving her busy London life, and her boyfriend Gerard, to sort out her elderly Aunt Lilian's sweetshop in a small country village is going to be dull. Boy, is she wrong.
 
Lilian Hopkins has spent her life running Lipton's sweetshop, through wartime and family feuds. As she struggles with the idea that it might finally be time to settle up, she also wrestles with the secret history hidden behind the jars of beautifully coloured sweets.
 
Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweetshop of Dreams - a novel - with recipes.
 
Review:
I follow Jenny on Twitter, and she used to be a regular contributer to a book review programme on Radio Five, and I know she's also written for the Doctor Who book series, but I haven't read a single book of hers since her very first one, Amanda's Wedding back in 2000.  Jenny dislikes the term chick-lit (and explains why in the Guardian podcast) and so like her, I'm trying to move away from that term, and I would therefore describe this as a romcom, and indeed, won the Romantic Novel of the Year award in 2013 after winning the Romcom category first.
 
So anyway, onto my thoughts on it!  I absolutely loved it.  Although there is love and romance throughout the story, successful, failed, new and old, I actually thought the main theme of this book was not about getting a (better) man, but getting a (better) life.  I think it shows how much this genre has moved on that this theme is becoming more prevalent, as the media and society still attempts to show the successful woman as "having it all", and authors are showing that while it's unlikely that you can have it all, you can do your best to aim for a good life, which will inevitably have it's ups and downs, but you have to try for more ups than downs, and not let the bad times rule your life.
 
The story is mostly about a young woman, who has been working as a nursing auxiliary in London, her mother has moved to Australia, she lives with her boyfriend who she loves, but still shows no sign of proposing or wanting their life together to move forward, and the hospital she's been working in has closed their A&E ward so she's working for an agency.  When Rosie's mother phones to say that her Great Aunt Lilian needs help after a hip replacement, and "asks" her to go to Derbyshire to help Lilian find a nursing home and sell her sweet shop business, Rosie thinks it will just be for a few weeks.  After the anonymity of London, Rosie initially finds the village life and society claustrophobic, but soon finds that getting both Lilian and the business back to fitness is much more rewarding than she'd imagined.

 

One of the joys of the book is the sweet shop itself.  Colgan's description bring back both the sweet shops and the sweets of my childhood, with a lovely sense of nostalgia, but bringing it up to date too.  I desperately want to visit the shop, but on the other hand, I've just found out that an old fashioned sweet shop has opening in my town, but I'm being careful to avoid it, as my willpower wouldn't be strong enough to go mad!
 
The story is funny, and sad in places too, as Lilian's history is revealed, but overall, upbeat and a lovely bit of escapism.  In a romcom, the final question would usually be "does Rosie get her man?" but for me, I felt the important question that was answered, was "is Rosie happier with her life?" and the answer is a resounding "Yes!"

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Great review! This is on my TBR, it's really nice to hear you liked it a lot :).

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Heist Society: Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter.

 

This is the third full length novel in the series, so I won't put a synopsis here, as it will include spoilers for anyone wanting to start the series from the beginning, but this YA series is about Kat Bishop, a teenage high stakes thief (art, jewellery, etc.).

 

In this installment, the job is very close to home for Kat, bringing its own complications and dilemmas, giving us some more background into some of the characters, and as always, even though as a reader you follow the heist through planning and execution, Carter still manages to throw a few twist and turns you never saw coming!  Another fast-paced, thrilling story in this series, perfect escapism for a rainy Bank Holiday. :smile2:

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Great review of Rosie Hopkins' Sweetshop of Dreams Claire :) I've been listening to it on my iPod and it's very enjoyable. Am thinking too much about sweets though :D  .. haven't had a rhubarb and custard for a long time.

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